Exposure and Effects of Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products on Atlantic Oysters

Jared Goldstone , Biology
Annette Govindarajan , Biology



We propose to examine exposure and potential effects of an emerging class of environmental pollutants, pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), on Atlantic oysters.  Because they receive drainage from throughout the watershed, estuaries are among the ecosystems most impacted by anthropogenic activities, receiving numerous chemical and biological contaminants. Atlantic oysters are an important aquaculture species, both locally on Cape Cod and globally, and are also important components of estuarine ecosystems.  They are highly effective filter feeders and are known to improve water quality. As such, oysters have been proposed as a “tool” to remediate coastal nitrogen pollution in Falmouth, and other parts of the United States.  At the same time, oysters may be negatively impacted by non-nitrogenous pollution. In particular, pollution from PPCPs in domestic wastewater and septic effluent are emerging as a serious threat to both wildlife and humans.  As sessile filter-feeders, oysters can be active “biosamplers” of environmental contaminants, and can accumulate high concentrations of chemicals. As they accumulate contaminants, bivalves also may exhibit sublethal changes, evident in gene expression, which arise in response to chemical insult.  Such changes may be useful as bioindicators of anthropogenic contamination. However, the knowledge of molecular responses in bivalves is fragmentary and hindered by a lack of studies on gene expression changes.

Specifically, we propose to assess the impact of a defined pollutant exposure on a suite of biomarker genes and determine the levels of these genes in field-deployed samples at three sites: (1) Little Pond, which is poorly flushed and relatively more impacted by anthropogenic pollution; (2) Green Pond, which is moderately flushed, and not as strongly impacted by septage-derived pollutants, and (3) Megansett Harbor, which is well flushed and not heavily influenced by septage. Oyster tissue samples will be analyzed for several PPCPs to establish exposures to selected compounds. We will analyze oyster tissue for biomarkers including the cytochrome P450 (CYP) genes, known in oysters and other bivalves to be induced by contaminants. Biological indices of oyster health, including condition index and allometry, will also be determined in adult oysters.  The proposed research combines biochemical and ecological approaches to assess the health of oysters, which are vital to healthy coastal ecosystems as well as important for human consumption and pollution mitigation.  This study will provide crucial data on oyster exposure and potential effects for an emerging class of pollutants, by identifying molecular biomarkers of exposure and associating them with chemical concentrations.  It is critical to the success of coastal pond remediation experiments and best management practices for coastal pond aquaculture that the effects of septage-derived non-nitrogenous pollutants be examined. The data obtained in the proposed work will provide crucial proof-of-concept data needed to obtain external funding from federal programs.